January 10, 2013WOLFEBORO — Selectmen made one more pass through the 2013 warrant articles at their Jan. 2 meeting, then attended the Budget Committee meeting the next evening to plead for a reversal of that committee's 5-1 vote against recommending that the town spend $50,000 for an engineering study of Middleton Road.
The Middleton Road study was reviewed by the Budget Committee on Dec. 27, the day of the largest snowstorm of the season to date, and only six of the nine members were present. According to Selectman Dave Senecal, who represents the board on the Budget Committee, the main reason for the 5-1 vote against recommending the warrant article was based on the conviction that if the state wanted to turn over responsibility for the road to the town, it should fund both the study and the reconstruction work needed to bring it up to an acceptable condition. The assumption was that if the town did not agree to pay one-third of the costs, the state would pay 100 percent rather than two-thirds.
Public Works Director Dave Ford said his view was that if the Budget Committee voted against recommending the article, it was not likely to pass with voters in March and should be withdrawn. However, he noted that if the town passed up the opportunity to do the project as a "municipally-managed" project with two-thirds funding from the Department of Transportation (DOT), funding to do any work on the road might not be available in the future.
Ford explained that when he met with DOT on July 16 about road projects in Wolfeboro, DOT staff made it clear that, as a result of steadily reduced road funding, the department would focus its efforts on preserving the good roads in the state and let the others continue to deteriorate. While Middleton Road in Wolfeboro is a state road – the former main road (Kings Highway) to Middleton and south – it is now a town road in New Durham and Middleton and the state has not done any work on it since 2001. The towns plow the road now, not the state, and the DOT would like to get rid of unnumbered roads like it everywhere in the state since it does not have the resources to maintain all numbered roads, let alone unnumbered ones.
Ford pointed out that Middleton Road was one of seven major roads coming into town with an average daily traffic of 1,200 vehicles. There are 158 houses on the road or accessed from it, and there are also 34 vacant lots. The Municipal Electric Department is located on the road as well as two town cemeteries. It is very difficult to plow because it is in such poor condition with poor base material, poor drainage, pavement failure and potholes, edge cracking, rutting and uneven frost heaving in spring. At times snow plows can only go 20 miles per hour.
He added that the state has already approved designating the project as "municipally managed" and eligible for two-thirds funding. The Center Street reconstruction project is also such a project and there is only $1.7 million currently available each year for such projects. The state estimates reconstructing Middleton Road could cost $1.5 million using $1 million per mile as a yardstick, but Ford feels it can be done for $1 million or less.
Selectman Chair Linda Murray reminded the board that it had asked state reps and Sen. Jeb Bradley not to let the $35 registration surcharge expire before another source of funding was developed for DOT. Nothing was done and the surcharge ended last June. The current New Hampshire gas tax of 18 cents per gallon was last set more than 20 years ago in 1991, when gas was $1.24 a gallon.
Selectmen Senecal warned that the DOT may not have the funding to commit to a two-thirds deal in a future year and said he felt the warrant article should not be withdrawn.
The board voted unanimously to request the Budget Committee to reconsider the Middleton Road article and all five selectmen showed up at the Budget Committee meeting the following evening, on Jan. 3.
That evening the Budget Committee had eight members in attendance. Ford repeated his presentation, emphasizing that the road needs to be rebuilt and that the Board of Selectmen want voters to have a chance to decide whether to proceed. At issue for 2013 is $50,000, the town's one-third share of the cost of an engineering survey and plan. He also said he felt that DOT would look for special funds for the project because they do want to end state responsibility for the road.
Town Manager Dave Owen added that once Middleton Road is turned over to the town it will add 1.5 miles to the town's 66 miles and increase Highway Block Grant funds, which were $164,000 in 2012.
Committee member Harold Parker asked why the town plows the road if the state owns it. Ford replied that DOT directed the town to plow it years ago.
Committee member and Town Treasurer John Burt asked if the cost of the survey could be included in the $600,000 requested for town roads. Ford said he would hate to do that because then the town will fall behind in its own road maintenance. Burt replied that it bothered him that the town was putting so much money into roads.
Committee member Bob Tougher said that current spending on town roads is just keeping up. He said he felt Middleton Road should be done if only for mutual aid in an emergency.
Burt said he accepted that the state would force the town to take the road but was looking for an expense to cut to offset the cost.
Senecal pointed out that $10,000 has already been spent on a preliminary camera survey that proved the road is in "tough shape."
Committee Chair John MacDonald asked if the project could be put off a year. Ford cautioned that the town can't count on funding being there later.
Committee member Stan Stevens pointed out that there are 100 state reps above the lakes and 300 below: "That's why we don't get funds," he stated.
MacDonald said he was concerned state might renege once the survey is done. Ford responded that DOT cannot commit to anything beyond its two-year budget cycle but does want to get this project done.
Committee member Matt Krause said that the town's $50,000 share was "a good investment."
In the end the Budget Committee voted 7-1 in favor of recommending the article, with Burt as the sole dissenter.
Library and Libby repairs
Selectmen also reviewed estimates of needed repairs to the library heating system and engineering work needed to correct moisture and ceiling problems at the Libby Museum. The goal was to come up with a firm estimate for a new warrant article to fund the work in March.
Library Trustees Board Chair John Sandeen wanted to clarify that the library's budget covers interior problems, and that the $6,000 that has been added to the budget is to address interior problems like the heating system. Ford assured Sandeen that the $6,000 would be used to pay consultant Tim Nichols of Acacia Engineers to assess the heating system. Nichols will work with Strogens HVAC Service Experts to come up with a plan to replace the obsolete and failing pneumatic ventilation control system. The current estimate from Strogens is $50,000 to upgrade to a modern digital control system. That estimate will be refined over the next few weeks and could be changed at the Deliberative Session.
Ford assured Sandeen that, according to Strogens, the heating systems can be made to run in any event. After the repairs it will run better and more efficiently.
The library total was estimated at $60,000, including engineering costs.
The plan for the Libby Museum is to evaluate the moisture and ventilation issues, what to do about the deteriorating ceiling, and see if the front wall of the building continues to move. Ford said he received a quote from Randall T. Mudge, an historical architect in Hanover, for $16,000 for the building assessment and a bid of $10,000 for a laser survey and followup to detect any building movement. Adding $3,000 for the cost of setting up staging to reach the ceiling brought the total to $34,000.
The board agreed to round the request up by $6,000 for contingencies in both projects and request $100,000 in the warrant article. Selectmen then voted 5-0 to recommend the article.
On Jan. 3 the Budget Committee voted 8-0 to recommend the expenditure as well.
The board agreed on the order that the warrant articles will appear on the ballot. Once the final number of proposed zoning amendments are known, the warrant articles will be numbered.
Selectmen also assigned who will present each article at the Deliberative Session and during the Wolfeboro Community Television taping session, which was scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 16, beginning at 1 p.m. at the WCTV studio.
The board chose a back cover photo for the 2012 Town Report and agreed not to dedicate the report to one person but rather remember the following seven people who were active in town government and passed away in 2012: Jeff Adjutant, John Bridges, Donald Morgan Sr., John O'Connell, Jane Richardson, Allen Stevens, and Arthur White Sr.
Selectman Sarah Silk inquired about the status of the communication tower for the public safety departments. Town Manager Owen responded that the contract was late in bidding and needs to be modified to allow a backup generator.
Owen reported that Sen. Jeb Bradley would be coming to the Jan. 16 meeting to discuss the status of state aid grant programs.
Selectmen approved the Saturday concerts put on the Friends of the Wolfeboro Community Bandstand, running from July 6 through Aug. 31.
The next meeting of the Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen will be on Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 6:30 p.m. at the Wolfeboro Public Library meeting room.